Kitchener’s Deep Trekker drones used to film inside the wreck of the USS Arizona
From left: Pearl Harbor survivor Don Stratton, his wife Velma, and Deep Trekker president Sam Macdonald stand in front of a film crew on the World War II Valor in the Pacific, a national monument that floats over the USS Arizona, which was sunk in the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941.
Photo courtesy of Deep Trekker Inc.

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by Helen Hall
Kitchener Citizen
November 3, 2016

Don Stratton likely never thought he would see the inside of the USS Arizona battleship again.

On December 7, 1941, Stratton was a Gunner’s Mate Second Class on the ship stationed at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

Just before 8am that day, Japanese planes came over Ford Island to launch torpedoes and bombs in a surprise attack.

In a video interview in 2013, Stratton said he ran to his battle station and started firing. However, the ship was hit by a bomb.

“The explosion just ripped the guts right out of the ship,” Stratton said. It hit the ammunition stored in the hull and the ship became a ball of fire.

Stratton climbed along a rope from his ship to a nearby ship and was taken to the military hospital with burns to 65 percent of his body.

Eight American navy ships were sunk at Pearl Harbor that day. All but the USS Arizona were raised, and six were returned to service.

There were 2,403 Americans killed in the attack, and 1,177 were on board the USS Arizona.

Stratton was one of the 335 survivors from the USS Arizona, and one of only six still alive today.

This summer, thanks to a Kitchener company, he saw the inside of the USS Arizona again.

Sam Macdonald, Shawn Pette, and Amanda Coulas of Deep Trekker spent a week in Pearl Harbor using the company’s remotely operated vehicles, known as underwater drones, to film the interior and exterior of the famous warship.

The company builds underwater drones that are about the size of a basketball, and are operated with a handheld device similar to a video game controller. The drones can maneuver through small areas deep in the ocean, and collect high definition film footage on their travels.

Deep Trekker president Sam Macdonald said Stratton and his family were invited by the National Parks Service, which manages the USS Arizona site, to attend the filming.

Macdonald said she sat with him in a small room in the World War II Valor in the Pacific, a national monument that floats above the wreck of the USS Arizona. As the drone travelled through the sunken ship and recorded video, they watched it on a monitor in real time.

“It was a really emotional moment,” Macdonald said of sitting with the veteran while he saw the barnacle-covered interior of the wreck.

Macdonald said that, even at 94, Stratton’s memory of the ship and the attack was still fresh.

As the drone travelled through the water into the admiral’s cabin, Stratton noted he never got to see this area of the ship when he was a seaman on board.

“He called that part of the ship ‘officers’ country’,” Macdonald said.

Macdonald said the Deep Trekker staff was much more involved with the filming of the USS Arizona than they thought they would be when they flew to Hawaii.

One of Deep Trekker’s customers was hired to do sonar work using a Deep Trekker drone as part of a project team that is researching the condition of the wreck. The Deep Trekker staff were there for support.

The Deep Trekker staff brought along extra drones, including their smallest model that can fit in spaces where a diver cannot.

“They (National Parks Service staff) were very excited to see this smaller drone,” Macdonald said.

They asked them to film deep inside the interior of the wreck in places that “have never been seen before by human eyes.”

Macdonald said they used both drones, and their staff did the operating because they have “thousands of hours of experience” maneuvering the remotely controlled vehicles.

Macdonald calls herself a “shipwreck junkie” and said she was excited to film the USS Arizona.

“This is the most important shi​pwreck in American military history,” Macdonald said. “It was in the top 10 experiences of my life.”

In addition to being used to document the USS Arizona’s condition, some of the video produced by Deep Trekker will also be released as part of the Pearl Harbor 75th Commemoration that will be held at the historic landmark between December 1 and 11, 2016. The video will provide an opportunity for those who can’t visit the site to have an inside look at the shipwreck.

More information on the commemoration can be found at the website www.pearlharbor75thanniversary.com.

Some of the video of the USS Arizona filmed by Deep Trekker is available on YouTube by searching ‘USS Arizona Expedition Footage.’

Underwater drones from Deep Trekker were also used by Parks Canada to explore the wreck of the HMS Erebus in the Canadian north. The ship was part of the Franklin Expedition, a British voyage of Arctic exploration led by Captain Sir John Franklin that departed England in 1845 and disappeared.

After years of searching, the Erebus was found in 2014.


After outgrowing its original location in Ayr, Deep Trekker Inc. is in the process of moving to a larger building on Trillium Drive in Kitchener.

The company employs 22 people and expects its staff to grow at the new location.

Deep Trekker is owned by Macdonald, Shawn Pette and Jeff Lotz.
It manufactures underwater drones and robotic pipe crawlers. It sells its products directly, and through vendors in 72 countries.
The remains of the USS Arizona can be seen in the shallow water of Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii. The floating white building over the wreck is the World War II Valor In The Pacific National Monument. In August, Deep Trekker president Sam Macdonald and 94 year old Pearl Harbor survivor Don Stratton sat in a room in the monument and watched video of the inside of the wreck being filmed using one of Deep Trekker’s underwater drones.
Photo courtesy of World War II Valor In The Pacific National Monument/Facebook

Deep Trekker owners, from left: Shawn Pette, with a remote control operating the drone in the tank, Sam Macdonald, and Jeff Lotz. The trio is in the process of moving their company from Ayr to Trillium Drive in Kitchener. Photo by Irene Adeney

Deep Trekker Inc. president Sam Macdonald operates a remote controlled underwater drone above the wreck of the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The drones were used to film the condition of the wreck that has been submerged in the water for 75 years since the surprise attack during World War II. Photo courtesy of Deep Trekker Inc.